Council of Canadian Academies Expert Frac Report: Provides more questions than answers, Science to be determined after the fracs

Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. Ottawa (ON): The Expert Panel on Harnessing Science and Technology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction April 30, 2014, Council of Canadian Academies

Press Release April 30, 2014

A new expert panel report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, concludes that shale gas development must be supported by well-targeted science and management strategies to understand and mitigate potential impacts. The report, released today by the Council of Canadian Academies, addresses environmental and associated health impacts and offers insights regarding public engagement and trust.

2014 04 30 The Expert Panel on Harnessing Science and Technology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction Council Canadian Academies

A few key quotes from the report, emphasis and additional references added:

Glossary, Hydraulic Fracturing: Injecting fracturing fluids into the target formation at a force exceeding the parting pressure of the rock thus inducing a network of fractures through which oil or natural gas can flow to the wellbore.

Page 5: These risks do not exist in isolation and can give rise to cumulative effects. The extent to which cumulative effects occur will depend on a variety of interacting factors. These include: the prevailing legal and regulatory environment; the risk-management systems used by gas and hydraulic fracturing companies; national and international energy and climate policies (or lack thereof); the availability of appropriate scientific information to judge proposed mitigation and remediation efforts; the presence and efficacy of scientific monitoring and regulatory enforcement; and the attitudes and responses of the affected communities [and success of threats to intimidate and shame the harmed into silence, bribes, gag orders and sealing the proof of harm and drinking water contamination caused by fracing]. The Panel notes the need for effective scientific baseline studies and long-term monitoring. However, studies and monitoring will be ineffective if they do not take place within a regulatory environment in which data are analyzed and the results used to inform policy, improve regulations, and ensure compliance. Similarly, advocates of shale gas extol the benefits of inexpensive gas, but as for any commodity (including conventional gas) the true cost must reflect the external costs of environmental damage.

Page 37: Horizontal drilling is generally reserved for deep wells, usually more than one kilometre, because it is cheaper to drill a larger number of vertical wells at shallow depths. [Encana frac’d hundreds at Rosebud above the Base of Groundwater Protection, this not covered in CCA’s report, including some illegally directly into the community’s drinking water supply] In addition, shallow horizontal wells pose a greater environmental risk.

Page 71: ….there is no known case of migration of hydraulic fracturing fluids from the deep shale zone to the groundwater level directly through the overburden rock. In text describing Figure 4.3, copied below, last sentence:

2014 04 30 CCA Conceptual Groundwater Contamination Pathway figure4_3_web_large

[“But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. … The E.P.A.’s 1987 report does not discuss the specific pathway that the fracking fluid or gel took to get to Mr. Parsons’ water well in West Virginia or how those fluids moved from a depth of roughly 4,200 feet, where the natural gas well was fracked, to the water well, which was about 400 feet underground. …

This well was fracked using gas and water, and with far less pressure and water than is commonly used today. … “The evidence is pretty clear that the E.P.A. got it right about this being a clear case of drinking water contamination from fracking,” said Dusty Horwitt, a lawyer…who investigated the Parsons case. …

Mr. Parsons said in a brief interview that he could not comment on the case. Court records indicate that in 1987 he reached a settlement with the drilling company for an undisclosed amount.” 

Article excerpts above with emphasis added, from: A Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More by Ian Urbina, August 3, 2011, New York Times

Excerpt below from The New York Times 2011 Drilling Down Documents:

“This is a 1987 report to Congress by the Environmental Protection Agency that deals with waste from the exploration, development and production of oil, natural gas and geothermal energy. It states that hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, can cause groundwater contamination. It cites as an example a case in which hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminated a water well in West Virginia. The report also describes the difficulties that sealed court settlements created for investigators.”

1987 EPAFrackingContaminationReport snap

1987 EPAFrackingContaminationReport COVER

Cover of the 1987 EPA Report ]

Page 76: Activities associated with shale gas extraction could enhance migration of gas through fractures or faults in two main ways.

First, pathways for gas leakage may develop due to cross connections through parts of the Intermediate Zone to leaky wells.

Second, activation of upward gas leakage along faults may occur as a result of minor earthquakes stimulated by hydraulic fracturing, or by slight distortions of the rock mass that allow these features to slip or open. Seismological research shows that major earthquakes can increase the bulk permeability of bedrock and that this increase can last for up to a few years before the permeability returns to its previous state (Manga et al., 2012). During this time, movement of gas and saline water along fractures and faults is likely. Another potential result of hydraulic fracturing triggered earthquakes could be pulses of deep gas from the fracture networks that invade the FGWZ. These pulses would be related to the fluid pressure response in the fracture networks due to the earthquakes (Fountain & Jacobi, 2000). This topic is of particular interest geophysicists and needs greater attention with respect to shale gas production.

4.3.1 Vertical Fractures Created by Hydraulic Fracturing
The large volume of liquids used in a single shale gas well during fracturing
(as much as 80,000 cubic metres in some Horn River Basin wells in British
Columbia) means that the volumetric strain on the reservoir is an order of
magnitude greater than in almost any previous conventional oil and gas well
fracture treatments. This raises the concern that any induced fractures could breach the overlying geological strata and interact directly with shallow aquifers via existing faults and fracture zones (Myers, 2012;17 Gassiat et al., 2013).

It is now understood that the volume of the rock mass that is affected by a
fracturing operation can be far larger than the volume of rock reached by the
proppant itself. This effect arises because the volumetric strains in the region
close to the fracturing point cause stresses in the rock mass, and the high
injection pressure reduces the frictional strength along natural joints. These
processes lead to wedging open of more distant fractures and shear displacement
across natural fractures. Because a natural fracture is a rough surface, if it is
displaced by as little as millimetres, it will no longer fit together snugly when
the active fracturing pressure dissipates during the flowback period. This shear
dilation leads to enhanced flow capacity (i.e., transmissivity) of the naturally
fractured reservoir, opening up minute flow paths far from the proppant zone
but still within the shale reservoir (Jackson & Dusseault, 2013).

Industry has maintained that the risk of hydraulic fracturing creating vertical conduits that would communicate with, and therefore contaminate, shallow groundwaters is extremely small for deep wells (i.e., those greater than about 1.0 kilometre). According to Fisher and Warpinski (2011): Under normal circumstances, where hydraulic fractures are conducted at depth, there is no method by which a fracture is going to propagate through the various rock layers and reach the surface. This fact is observed in all of the mapping data and is expected based on the application of basic rock-mechanics principles deduced from mineback, core, lab, and modelling studies.

Generally, the Panel accepts this statement as likely, provided that the qualifier,
great depth, is included. However, the Panel notes that this is a largely empirical belief based on microseismic measurements and geomechanical considerations, rather than on more definitive types of measurement. The literature does not specify the minimal depth at which hydraulic fracturing is too risky to undertake. Nor does it specify what data and analysis are needed to determine if conditions are too risky to proceed.

One unresolved issue is whether the volume changes in the shale gas zone as a
result of injecting large volumes of liquid during hydraulic fracturing operations
might bend or distort the overlying strata so that natural fractures in the rock
open. Such deformation (rather than pressure) could generate new pathways
for upward gas migration. Because the overburden rocks in many of the shale
gas areas are stiff, small amounts of bending could be enough to open natural
fractures even just a little, allowing naturally-buoyant gas to migrate upward. [THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE COLD LAKE SCENARIO]

This issue of strain magnitudes in the rock above the shale gas formation is one
that can be studied quantitatively and subjected to mathematical modelling.
However, verifying the stability of the hydraulic conductivity properties of the
overburden during and after hydraulic fracturing requires sophisticated in situ
strain measurements and long-term monitoring, neither of which has been
done. Wang (2013a, 2013b) conducted geomechanical modelling to assess
changes in stress conditions in response to gas extraction from the Utica shale
region in Quebec that suggest that the caprock may experience an increase in
bulk hydraulic conductivity.

Page 143: Under common law, property owners or renters are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their lands. A definition of public nuisance that has been accepted by the Supreme Court of Canada (1999) is “any activity which unreasonably interferes with the public’s interest in questions of health, safety, morality, comfort, or convenience.” The development of shale gas can include public nuisances such as increased noise, dust, traffic, odour, and visual impacts. The extent to which these affect people may depend on factors such as current environmental quality and the characteristics of the affected community including socio-economic status and community experience with the oil and gas industry.

Page 145: Soil vibrations from fracturing may also change the colour, turbidity, or odour of well water. …

Some of the risks to human health, such as the slow migration of some contaminants in groundwater, the increased risk of cancer as a result of exposure to air emissions, or the intergenerational impacts of endocrine disruptors, have long latency periods and may affect future generations more than the current one. 

Page 146: The Panel has identified the following gaps in knowledge of the effects of
large-scale shale gas development on human health:
The mixtures of chemicals associated with shale gas activities are generally unknown and untested, making it difficult to predict and assess risk from direct/indirect exposures.
• Concentrations of additives will change due to reactions with chemicals in
shale-producing formations and dilution with brine. These reactions may
produce new chemicals of potential health concern.
The pathways of fracturing chemicals in the environment, including the routes through which individuals may be exposed, are unclear.
• Typical exposure duration times and concentration of different contaminants
have not been fully established and specific health impacts are therefore
difficult to predict or identify.
• Calculations of additive risk for specific compounds through different routes
of exposure, or of cumulative risk from several compounds are not available.
Public health surveillance, leading to epidemiological studies, or rigorous health impact assessments of shale gas extraction activities have not been conducted.

Page 151: Health impact assessments (HIAs) are seldom required as part of the regulatory approval process by any provincial, national, or multinational jurisdiction. Mandatory and comprehensive requirements for submitting HIAs would have to be established provincially. Assessments should evaluate short-term, cumulative, and long-term health and social impacts, and consider mechanisms for enhancing health equity and the unique health and social needs of vulnerable populations.

Page 158: Unlike hydraulic fracturing chemicals, pesticides must be tested to determine their propensity to cause groundwater contamination and must meet specific standards aimed at minimizing this risk before they can be approved for general use (CCA, 2013).

Page 161: ….Tilley and Mueuhlenbachs (2011) used gas-carbon isotope
analyses of drilling mud samples collected at 2- to 20-metre depth intervals
to fingerprint each zone where gas occurs along the length of the hole in
coal-bed methane areas of Alberta. The researchers used these fingerprints
to match those sampled from domestic wells and, in some cases, the matches
established the source depth zone of methane/ethane [Including the Ernst water well, others at Rosebud, the Campbell’s at Ponoka and Zimmerman’s at Wetaskiwin].

Page 187: “Most research projects conducted in Canada are planned for the relatively short term — five to ten years or less. To address some of the most important questions about shale gas, longer-term research will be needed over the anticipated decades-long development periods and over sufficient time scales following well closure.”

Page 215: There are no vulnerability identification and management systems in place to identify those areas in Canada where hydraulic fracturing will be so risky that it should not be undertaken. Although much is known about minimizing the risks related to surface activities, there has been almost no monitoring to assess the risks of gases and fluids contaminating shallow groundwater from below the aquifers as a result of drilling, hydraulic fracturing, inadequate well sealing, and well decommissioning.

Starting at Page 216, 10.1 Summary of the Panel’s Response to the Charge: Environment Canada asked the Panel to address the following question:

What is the state of knowledge of potential environmental impacts from the
exploration, extraction, and development of Canada’s shale gas resources, and
what is the state of knowledge of associated mitigation options?

1. ….there has been no comprehensive investment in research and monitoring of environmental and health impacts for either the implementation of best current practices or in the case of accidental releases that cannot be reduced to zero. Many of the pertinent questions are hard to answer objectively and scientifically, either for lack of data, for lack of publicly available data….

2. Natural gas leakage from wells due to improperly formed, damaged or deteriorated cement seals is a long-recognized yet unresolved problem that continues to challenge engineers. Leaky wells are known in some circumstances to create pathways for contamination of groundwater resources….

3. An undetermined risk to potable groundwater exists from the upward migration of natural gas and saline waters via complex underground pathways. These pathways include well casing leakage from the production or Intermediate Zones due to inadequate seals, natural fractures in the rock, old abandoned wells, and permeable faults. These connected pathways may allow for migration over the long term, with potentially substantial cumulative impact on aquifer water quality. The monitoring, assessment, and mitigation of impacts from upward migration of contaminants are all more difficult than they are for impacts from surface activities. The potential impacts on groundwater are not currently systematically monitored.

4. ….little is known about assimilation capacity or the resilience of fresh groundwater systems to invasions of stray gas. Investigations specific to these impacts have not been conducted although technology exists for such monitoring. A common claim in the literature is that hydraulic fracturing has shown no verified impacts on groundwater. Recent peer-reviewed literature refutes this claim and also indicates that the main concerns are for longer term cumulative impacts….

5. … This flowback is potentially hazardous because it typically contains a portion of the fracturing chemicals, hydrocarbons including benzene and other aromatics, unknown chemicals formed down the well by interactions between chemicals at high temperature and pressure, and constituents leached from the shale such as salt, metals, metalloids, and NORM.

6. Shale gas development alters the land and local hydrology through the construction of roads, pads, ditches, and pipelines. Although we know a good deal about the effects of road construction, ditches, and pipelines in other contexts, there has not been a comprehensive study of the combined effects specific to shale gas, and some impacts are most likely to be long term. …

8. … Shale [same as CBM] gas development can place quality of life and well-being in some communities at risk due to the combination of diverse factors related to the alienation of land, construction of new infrastructure, degradation of water quality, the introduction of nuisances such as truck traffic and noise, loss of rural serenity, and anxiety about unknown impacts. Several of the consequent impacts are expected to be long term. These concerns have led to extensive opposition to shale gas development in several regions of the country, including Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

10. … Advanced technologies and practices that now exist could minimize many impacts (although some are untested or unverified), but it is not clear that all are economically feasible [or that companies care to use them even if they were] and that there are technological solutions to address all of the relevant risks. The efficacy of current regulations is not yet established because of the lack of adequate monitoring.

The research needed to provide the framework for improved science-based decisions concerning cumulative environmental impacts has only begun in Quebec.

12. … It is evident that more science is needed on which to base regulations, and that such regulations will only be effective if they are informed by timely monitoring and enforced rigorously. Given the current knowledge gaps….

Page 172: The most common issue concerning shale gas impacts on groundwater is natural gas, particularly methane, found in domestic wells. Debate continues over the sources of the methane — is it natural or attributable to shale gas drilling and
the hydraulic fracturing of these wells? …

The essential issue then is how to distinguish existing methane from any methane contributed by shale gas activities. The simplest conceptualization of the problem is that existing methane originates at shallow depth and is biogenic, usually geologically young methane. In contrast, the methane generally attributable to oil and gas industry drilling is much older thermogenic gas, coming from the Intermediate or Deep Zone due to leaky well seals or other short-circuit pathways.

[Industry and regulators have publicly reported that companies have targeted/are targeting biogenic methane in shallow shales and other formations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The Alberta Energy Regulator admits that shales may be frac’d horizontally and vertically above the Base of Groundwater Protection (where the fresh water zones are).]

[Refer also to:

Fracking’s greatest risk is water contamination: leaked report by James Munson, April 30, 2014,
A landmark report commissioned by Environment Canada has found water contamination to be the greatest threat posed by the shale gas extraction method known as fracking. The “Expert Panel on Harnessing Science & Technology to Understand the Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction” report finds publicly-available science on shale gas extraction to be woefully inadequate while pointing to a long list of potential negative environmental effects — of which water contamination is the most worrisome. “Most experts agree that impacts on water raise the greatest environmental concern by shale gas development,” says the report’s executive summary, a copy of which was obtained by iPolitics Wednesday. [The report was publicly posted on the Council’s website on Wednesday, April 30, 2014]

Increased greenhouse gas emissions, seismic activity, socioeconomic disruption and poor scientific monitoring also pose a problem for shale gas extraction, an established industry in British Columbia and Alberta but with potential in eastern provinces, the report says.

Shale gas extraction, which is much more advanced in the United States than in Canada, has been proceeding without an adequate scientific understanding of its impacts, says the report’s conclusion. “Well-targeted science is required to ensure a better understanding of the environmental impacts of shale gas development,” it says. “Authoritative data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive.”

The report focuses specifically on shale gas extraction, which has been made possible thanks to advancements in two technologies: horizontal drilling along shale rock formations and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Shale deposits have been identified around the world, but North America is ground zero for the so-called ‘shale boom’. Adequate regulation of shale gas fracking has been a pressing question for the industry, which has been the target of documentaries and environmentalist campaigns in the U.S. [Globally, not merely in the U.S.] over the past several years.

The anxiety[Communities in Alberta were demanding a moratorium because of the significant damages that had already occurred; the Harper government responded with a literature review, no study, no moratorium.] over shale gas fracking eventually led former environment minister Peter Kent to commission the report in 2012. He asked the Council of Canadian Academies, an arm’s-length scientific body Ottawa occasionally turns to for advice, to provide an overview of the known scientific research on fracking.

The council encountered a scientific field riddled with unknowns. “While tens of thousands of shale gas wells have been drilled across North America over the last two decades, mostly in the United States, there has been no comprehensive investment in the research and monitoring of environmental impacts,” the report says. A lot of information isn’t known, and a lot that is isn’t public, says the report. “As a result, many pertinent questions are hard to answer objectively and scientifically.”

Despite the knowledge gaps, the consensus among the panelists is that water contamination is the greatest threat. The report says a gas leak into groundwater poses the highest risk, which could happen if the gas travelled around the well or if it leaked through an improperly installed casing. “The potential impacts of leaking wells are not being systemically monitored, and predictions (on the impacts of leakages) remain unreliable,” the report says.

There’s a second potential route for contamination, the report says. Fracking takes place inside rock about 1,000 meters below the surface and involves the breaking up of shale to release pockets of natural gas. [Fracing has occurred thousands of times in Alberta above the Base of Groundwater Protection, and continues to occur there.] The region where fracking occurs is much deeper than the groundwater level [Fracing has often occurred and is occurring where fresh water zones are in Alberta], but if there are pathways in the shale rock there’s a risk that natural gas — along with the fluids and chemicals used in fracking — could leak into groundwater, says the report.

“The migration of gases and saline fluids through these pathways over the long term could result in potentially substantial cumulative impacts on water quality,” it says. But, “There is no known case of hydraulic fracturing fluid migration from deep shale gas zones to groundwater level directly through the rock.”

The climate change impacts of fracking could be positive if fracking leads to natural gas displacing more carbon-intensive fuels like coal, the report says. But if the shale boom takes investment away from renewable power, it could make things worse, it says.

Potential seismic effects are minimal, but a greater threat comes from the storage of wastewater in emptied-out gas pockets, it says. The council says seismic monitoring can reduce impacts.

Shale gas can have a dramatic effect on communities, increasing income inequality and pollution, the report says. A general lack of social acceptance and trust is also undermining the public’s understanding of shale gas, it says. [Why insult harmed families and communities, and those smart enough to know unacceptable risks in their backyards when they see them?] “Psychosocial impacts have also been reported,” it says. “Lack of transparency and conflicting messages can lead to the perception that industry or authorities are not forthcoming, which can augment concern about individual quality of life and contribute to feelings of anxiety about the future.”

The provinces, which have varying degrees of regulation when it comes to fracking, are ultimately responsible for making sure the industry operates responsibly, the report says. There will be governance challenges, however, given the disparate impacts of the industry on those near the operations and those who benefit, it says.

B.C. is nurturing the exploration of its shale gas with the aim of becoming a hub for the export of liquified natural gas. Quebec and Nova Scotia currently have moratoriums on fracking while New Brunswick is updating regulations for the divisive shale gas operations happening there. The federal government — which has some jurisdiction over the shale gas boom through its regulation of toxic chemicals, emissions and fish habitat — has been sponsoring research programs on fracking’s impact while waiting for the Council of Canadian Academies report. [Emphasis added]

2014 05 01 CBC News on CCA Frac Report

Fracking data about environmental impacts insufficient, report finds by Margo McDiarmid, April 30, 2014, CBC News
A new report commissioned by Environment Canada says there’s little information about the effects of shale gas development on the environment. The report by a panel of 14 international experts concludes that “data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive.”

In an interview with CBC News, Rick Chalaturnyk, one of the authors of the report and an engineering professor at the University of Alberta, said “additional information needs to be collected to better understand and manage those impacts.” [Why do none of the many experts outline in the report or media interviews any fixes for the people and communities harmed by the many impacts?]

Energy companies inject chemicals and sand deep underground [and extremely shallow, as per industry/regulator data and publications. The expert panel ignored this important fact.] to fracture the rock and free up natural gas. That gas can leak into underground drinking water, and the report says it’s not being properly monitored. It says the government and industry have to do a better job of tracking the effects. [Again, no fixes mentioned. Is it because there are none that companies are willing to pay for in their “Good Neighbour” or “Courtesy Matters” programs?]

“For large-scale shale gas development now, I don’t think you want to be in a position anymore of just saying, ‘trust me, we know what we’re doing.’ We’re past that,” Chalaturnyk said. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

April 29, 2014: Council of Canadian Academies Literature Review retained in 2012 by Ex-Minister of Environment Peter Kent to be released May 1, 2014, after repeat delays; Fixes for Canadians Harmed by Fracing Not Expected

October 5, 2012: Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Resources A California Perspective The most memorable moment was when Dr. John Cherry, the renowned hydrogeologist from the University of Guelph, characterized the activities in the U.S. as a grand experiment with no proper scientific research on the effects of hydrofracturing on the environment. He challenged the funding mechanisms for such research in the U.S. because of the ties between universities and industry (or other parties), and indicated that the U.S. would be better off with a funding system similar to that in Canada, where the funding is not similarly tied and thus scientific research can proceed relatively unencumbered. [Emphasis added]

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